Zephaniah on Faith Under Peer Pressure
By Nathan Jones
Absolute devotion to Jesus Christ is tragically a rarity in this day and age. Just think about it. Living ensconced in the comfort of our Western cultural diversity and national Judeo-Christian roots, when have you ever been challenged to deny Christ or die? Probably never. And yet, Western Christians are leaving their faith in Christ at an alarming rate.
According to a five-year study of young adults by the California-based spiritual research company, the Barna Group, by age 15 a whopping 59% of Christian teens have dropped out of the faith. Of those who identify as Christian into the ages of 18 to 25, a staggering 38% have significant doubts about their faith.1
Why the mass exodus of Christians from their faith in God and church families? According to the Barna study, the most prevalent reason reported by those surveyed was their feeling that biblical morals had become old fashioned and therefore totally obsolete in our modern hedonistic society. The Bible, the youth believe, couldn’t possibly stand against the appeal of a society which tells its people that they should be free of the moral constraints the Bible has placed on them.
Society woos us with the pretext that marriage is a dated and suffocating contract. It coerces us with the freedom that sex should be with whomever and whenever you want it. It consoles us that consequences can be avoided by a speedy abortion or STD vaccine. It lies to us that non-Christian religions are also truth. It swells us with pride when proclaiming we are the center of the universe and deserve all the best life has to offer, so go ahead and take it by any means. These are the falsehoods society rams down our throats through incessant advertising, marketing and the most effective tactic of all—peer pressure.
Who are the most susceptible to society’s anti-biblical teachings? According to Dr. John T. Chirban, clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School, it’s the children.2 Dr. Chirban explains that, “individuals often find themselves conforming to the group’s norms, behaviors, attitudes, speech patterns, and dress code to earn acceptance and approval.” In other words, our self-worth is tied to being accepted by our peers and society. Conform and you’re cool and accepted, do not conform and you are ridiculed and ostracized.
That’s why Christian parents are repeatedly confronted by these statements from their children: “My friends are all doing it. Why shouldn’t I?” “I don’t want to be left out.” “What if they don’t like me anymore?”
When faced with choosing to be cool like their friends or being fuddy-duddy like their parents and their outdated Bibles, most children invariably choose society. And, when society is the choice, what naturally follows is the abandonment of the child’s faith in God. Their easily disposable faith had never been truly internalized as their own, lasting only as long as it had been because it was riding on the coattails of their parent’s faith.
Despite the hardships, Christians can maintain their faith in God against the unwavering onslaught of societal peer pressure. The solution can be found in a little three chapter book written by the Prophet Zephaniah.
I believe if you read the following excerpt from my new book, co-authored with Steve Howell, titled 12 Faith Journeys of the Minor Prophets (available on our website and on Kindle and Nook), you will marvel at the similarities between the people of Israel in the Prophet Zephaniah’s time and God’s people today when asking that very same question.
We’ll begin with an introductory story, an elaborations on Scripture, an imaged scenario that the text hints at but doesn’t necessarily describe. We ask that you take this story as intended—as historical fiction to illustrate historical fact. Then we’ll dive directly into the book of Zephaniah and learn what the prophet has to teach us concerning having faith when under peer pressure.
The Nervous Nobleman
The palace guards stood before the grand doors to the king’s throne room like two stone monoliths. Though military protocol dictated that their eyes remain focused forward, curiosity drew them to watch out of the corners of their eyes a young nobleman.
Just into manhood, the richly adorned aristocrat paced vigorously back and forth before the guards while biting his once perfectly manicured nails. Sometimes he’d stop to look longingly out of the window and survey the vista of his hometown of Jerusalem, as if desiring to escape out of the window to the portico below. More than once he’d rushed up to the doors as if ready to enter, only to spin around and resume his worried pacing. The guards nevertheless appeared quite unconcerned that there was a potential security threat, for the nobleman was a regular to the royal court. They remained calm, despite a combination of bemusement and bother at having to be needlessly readied to open the entryway.
Halting before the massive doors for the umpteenth time, the nobleman laid his hands upon the cedar wood and sighed out an, “Okay, I’m ready.” And yet, he remained leaning against the doors, unmoving as if glued to the floor. Unsure if it was to the guards or to himself that he was addressing, the three remained in the limbo of a lengthy and uncomfortable silence. The sentries decided it was finally time to move things along, and sharing a knowing look, pushed the heavy panels swiftly aside. The young man tumbled into the room.
After quickly pulling himself upright, the nobleman’s eyes darted hurriedly around the cavernous hall. The king’s royal court remained as lavish as he’d always remembered it since childhood. Ornate wood paneling etched with gold bedecked the marbled walls. Thick tapestries hung around the perimeter depicting the great exploits of a dynasty that stretched back almost 400 years. The massive throne stood as the centerpiece of the room, graced by two ferocious lion sculptures and a bevy of live peacocks spreading their turquoise feathers along its stone stairway.
Bounding down those stairs two at a time, the teenage king ran to meet his boyhood friend who’d just stumbled through the entryway. “Cousin Zephaniah!” exclaimed the king. Using an embrace as cover, the boy king whispered conspiratorially into his relative’s ear. “I’m so glad you’re here. This meeting with the foreign ambassadors is soooo boring. Do you have any message from the Lord that can liven things up?” The question caused Zephaniah to break down into a choking fit. The king, never one for protocol, whacked him on the back. Once his coughing was under control, Zephaniah realized in alarm that the room was full of dignitaries, and remembering his place, bowed deeply before his sovereign. “King Josiah, I am as ever at your service.” The king smiled impishly, tilted his crown back upright atop his head, and then almost hopped back up onto his throne.
Zephaniah took in his audience. At the center of the royal hall sat the young king who’d returned to his throne, surrounded by a half dozen or so advisors standing around the base. These old men had practically raised Josiah since the tender age of eight after the murder of his father, King Amon. They were the true power in the land and were as extremely corrupt as Amon had ever been. Zephaniah had spent much time behind the scenes countering their advice to Josiah. Besides the ever-present royal guard and military generals, various ambassadors from Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Ethiopia and even dreaded Assyria were there in full pomp and circumstance. They had been deep in a meeting to discuss a new threat from the distant north.
All eyes in the room now focused silently on Zephaniah, some revealing barely concealed impatience while others outright contempt at the intrusion. All were held only in check by the king’s request that their attention be given to this gangly young interloper.
Zephaniah just stood there frozen, his insides shuddering from a mix of dread and adrenaline. His stomach felt queasy and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Only a prophet of Yahweh God for a brief time, he understood he wasn’t just suffering from the inner turmoil that comes from being inexperienced. No, he was suffering from the terrible realization that if he gave the message God had sent him to give, this may very likely be the last time he ever enjoyed the privileges of the royal court and a special friendship with his king and kinsman. The worst case scenario, and the most likely one, he’d be killed right there on the spot. Zephaniah was facing the loss of everything he’d ever cherished.
With one last mental cry of desperation, Zephaniah begged God for strength and courage. And then, the young nobleman was jolted as if lightening had shot through his body. Peace like a blanket followed, wrapping around him to chase all his fears away. Now divinely assured of what he must do, consequences be accursed! Rising to full height, back straight and eyes steeled, the novice prophet spoke up with a voice so strong that inwardly it took him by surprise. “Thus says the Lord, ‘I will utterly consume everything from the face of the land!’”